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Linda Beyus 
B.A., University of Connecticut, 1971 

Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements 

for the degree of 
Masters of Arts in Anglicanism, Globalism, Ecumenism Studies 

May 1993 


Dr. Kwok Pui Lan, B.A., B.D., M.Th., Th.D. - Thesis advisor 
Asscociate Professor of Theology, Episcopal Divinity School 

i<C~joic fi. 

The Rev. Dr. Ian T. Douglas, BA., Ed.M., M.Div., Ph.D. 

Director of Anglicanism, Globalism, and Ecumenism Studies, Episcopal Divinity 

Margaret Crane, B.A., M.Div. degree candidate, 

Episcopal Divinity School; 

Candidate for ordination, Diocese of Vermont 













1980's - 1990's 48 





Copyright 1993 by Linda Beyus. No portion of this thesis may be reproduced or 
published without the permission of the author. 



Economic analysis is an intrinsic part of Latin American liberation theology, 
whether one reads the works of its theologians or sits in on a base community 
meeting in Latin America. The importance of economic issues is obvious even in the 
documents issued by two significant Roman Catholic historical bishops' conferences, 
Medellin and Puebla. Liberation theology's relationship to economics is an intimate 
one and this fact of inseparability puts the wind in the sails of this particular 
theology. The forces of economics, articulated within an analysis of history, leap out 
of the words and ideas that articulate Latin American liberation theology - a theology 
which stands side-by-side with the poor and marginalized. 

Latin American liberation theology may have relevance to other groups, 
people and nations, but its distinct character has grown out of the continent's own 
socioeconomic history and cultural "realities," a word used repeatedly in this theology. 
Latin American liberation theology's specificity suggests that its own unique 
theological method of inquiry and perspective reflects Latin America's own economic 
and political history. This form of theology would look and act differently if it were 
in another nation or continent. I am interested in what this theology and the people 
who live it have to say about their lives. 

This paper examines "realities" shaped by the economic factors, models, and 


history at work since the Second World War up through the present. Some of the 
questions that interest me in this exploration are the following: 

> What economic forces made Latin America a fertile ground for this 
particular form of liberation theology to grab hold and become a meaningful tool for 
its Christians? 

> What macro-economic dynamics took place, or were imposed upon Latin 
America and what effects did these have upon the majority of the population, the 

> What kind of a "greenhouse setting" existed, and still exists, which enabled 
this theology to grow in "ideal conditions" and helped it flourish? 

> Why is economics an intrinsic part of liberation theology theory and 
practice, both now and in the past? 

I hope that this paper is a useful exploration of material for those who want 
to deepen their knowledge of the economic history and present realities of Latin 
America, and for understanding what makes this form of liberation theology - 
revealed in peoples' everyday lives of faith - unique. This paper may help others 
understand what economic justice entails anywhere in the "two-thirds world" or 
nations of the South, an issue becoming more and more critical as conditions for the 
majority of the world's peoples worsen. 

This paper has been written for those who want to know why economics is so 
key to understanding the concerns of Latin American liberation theologians as well 
as the average people, the non-intellectuals of Latin America, who do not separate 
economic justice in society from their theology. These are the people who believe 
in and pray to a God who "frees the captives" and who took on a human form as a 
poor, marginalized, often radical person. Why is the economic piece central to their 

faith perspective; what is it about the context of Latin America that creates the 
integration of economic analysis with a theology of liberation? 

This paper explores what the broad sweep of economic forces, the macro 
picture, looks like. The economic sources that I use write from a faith and social 
ethics perspective; they are not economists writing for other economists. In addition, 
the value of voices primarily from Latin America itself is paramount for maintaining 
a strong sense of the particular context, so minimal North American sources are 

I paint a somewhat impressionist painting here, not zeroing-in on any one 
country within Latin America. The capitalist model manifested in development 
theory and policies toward Latin America have not been particular to one country; 
in fact, they now have an encroaching universality within the global economic picture. 
These theories and efforts are possibly the largest and most damaging "exports" ever 
sent to Latin America in modern history from both the U.S. and Europe. On the 
other hand, Pablo Richard, a Latin American theologian suggested that attention in 
the form of development is better than no attention at all! 

In this paper, my viewpoint is one which questions the exploitation and 
injustices which often accompany economic policies and attitudes toward nations of 
the South. My inherited and chosen perspective and context is that of a white, 
middle class, theologically-educated, Christian female living in the United States. In 
spite of minimal direct contact with the people and nations of Latin America, I have 
chosen to take the side of the majority there who seek justice and basic human rights. 

I belong to the nation in the North that has had a history of confused if not 
imperialistic sense of neighborliness; a nation, like Europe, that saw Latin America 
as malleable, ripe for opportunity, a perceived threat to "stability," and rich in raw 
materials, labor and trading opportunities. In this paper I am clearly biased toward 
the poor people and nations who are the centerpiece of and utilizers of Latin 
American liberation theology; they are the ones for whom liberation is not a mere 
word or idealized concept. 

In the first section, I define liberation and what it means to the people of 
Latin America. It is necessary to understand how liberation theologians define it. 
The question of "liberation from what and into what?" is key to defining the core of 
this theology. 

In the next section, I critique the language about and the historical results of 
economic development in Latin America, using a Christian ethical perspective 
expressed in liberation theology. Some questions within this analysis of economic 
development include: "done by whom and on whose behalf? The adoption of an 
international capitalistic model which accompanied development has had direct 
effects on the lives of people. Liberation theology points out that the success or 
failure of development needs to be seen from the viewpoint of the Latin American 

The third area I discuss is dependency, the result of development policies and 
dynamics of asymmetric relationships between "developed" and "underdeveloped" 
nations. Latin America's dependency was upon the North, who played a dominant 

role in shaping and steering their economic policies. "Dependency theory" was a 
method of critique created by Latin American political and economic theorists; it 
became a powerful tool when adopted into liberation thought, elaborating the 
"liberation from what?" idea. 

The Medellin and Puebla conferences, the fourth area of focus, are two 
landmark Roman Catholic bishops' conferences that articulated the response of the 
church to the socioeconomic realities of Latin America in the 1960's and 1970's. The 
Latin American bishops at these conferences articulated strong concerns about (and 
condemnation of) some economic policies seen in the light of the Gospel. I discuss 
the economic critique done by the Latin American Roman Catholic church by 
looking at the documents these conferences produced. Medellin and Puebla 
demonstrate the impact that liberation theology had on the official church which 
became a church in solidarity with the poor, accepting the challenge of new pastoral 
and social responsibilities. 

The fifth area I look at includes the current economic realities in Latin 
America (1980's - 1990's); that is, some of the key factors that are influencing Latin 
America's economic and political context. These key factors are as follows: 

1. The international debt crisis - its origins and impact upon Latin America. 
No economic factor has had more impact than this complex creation of the 
international financial system; its stranglehold on the nations of the South is the 
single largest reason for increasing poverty and environmental devastation. Some 
historical information on how and why the loans began, and what forces exacerbated 

the situation throughout the Third World are useful to understanding this crisis. 

2. The post-Cold War era and the new world order - The changes in eastern 
Europe and the former Soviet Union's shift to democracy will unquestionably impact 
Latin America's relationship to the United States and to the rest of the world. 
Recent writings of Latin American theologians and political scientists raise important 
issues regarding the future of their economies and social order which update the 
political/economic analysis of this paper. 

Lastly, I discuss some more current voices and issues in Latin American 
liberation theology; it seems important to discover how it has changed since its 
origins in the 1960's, since the context is very different now, thirty years later. How 
is this theology being lived and used among the people? "New voices" are speaking 
out in Latin America, empowered by the tools of liberation thought, which will 
change the look and feel of this theology in both its theory and praxis. 

After looking at the above areas, I conclude with a synthesis of the threads 
that emerge in a study that uses the lens of economic analysis and ethics. What 
critical issues emerge from this study of liberation theology and do they answer the 
questions that intrigued me at the outset? 

I am not so much interested in trying to do the Latin American methods here 
in the U.S. as I am in looking with intrigue at the components of this particular, 
contextual theology which has had a ripple effect throughout the world. The past 
teachings of the churches which told the masses that their reward would be in 
heaven, not on earth, and the assumption by the developed nations that some must 

win and some must lose in the high stakes game of "free" trade and expanded 
markets, were exposed by the dazzling light of liberation theology for the benefit of 
two-thirds of the world who had no relevant theologies to sustain and empower them. 
This may prove to be the most profound shift within the Christian Church in the 
twentieth century. 

Another factor which draws me to Latin American liberation theology is its 
ability to interpret scripture in a new way. When the "blinders come off," this 
hermeneutic allows a God to emerge who chooses the side of the poor, the despised 
and oppressed in history. Jesus emerges as the radical man who disturbs the status 
quo and whose power is the power to love. This liberating method of theologizing 
is inclusive and is done by people at the "base level" (as the Boff brothers describe 
it) as well as in the academy. All who are engaged may end up being empowered. 
While I am not delving into the specifics of this biblical study methodology, a 
"re-reading" of scripture, it is part of the backdrop for my study of context and 

Liberation theology sees the church and one's faith life as a potential agent 
for change in society, fully engaged in finding solutions to societal problems after 
critically seeing what is or ought to be - a participatory church that is the "watchdog" 
of society for and with oppressed people. This pragmatic and deeply spiritual 
theology concretizes a vision of a church that takes the gospel message of justice and 
love seriously. 


This "new" way of doing theology calls for a shift in consciousness by those in 
power to acknowledge the ones living "under the table." This table at present allows 
only those in power, who are prosperous, to sit and eat at it, basking in their comfort 
and freedom (even if it is the freedom to oppress others or to ignore them). It is not 
just despotic rulers or repressive regimes who sit at this table, but rich nations and 
the international business and financial community. 

The silence-breaking protests of the poor, especially since the 1960's, drew the 
attention of their theologians to this shaking table, which might be tipped over; 
revolution, they felt, might end up being the only way to real change - reform might 
not be enough. The masses in Latin America began to see that other people and 
nations were not living in the poverty and misery that they were. The economic 
reality of Latin America, best described as oppressive, a form of "imposed 
international capitalism," was keeping the majority of its people (for the poor are the 
majority in that continent) from a fair share in the well-being that the richer 
countries were enjoying. The wealthy oligarchy in Latin American countries was also 
reaping the benefits of international capitalism. The masses, on whose behalf the 
theologians raised their voices, were being denied the most basic human rights of 
adequate housing, food, water, education and health care. 


How could the European-educated theologians from Latin America ignore 
those who were raising their voices, those on the underside? A new way of doing 
theology, one that built itself upon the realities of the oppressed, was born. 
Influenced by the writings of the liberation theologians and outspoken bishops, the 
Roman Catholic Church proclaimed, via the Medellin and Puebla conferences, an 
"option for the poor," a phrase I prefer to interpret as "they took the side of the 
poor," and measured human progress according to the standard of how the poorest 
and marginalized were faring in society. The facts pointed to a failure of living out 
a Christian ethic of loving one another and building a life-giving community (at a 
continental if not global level) both in society and the church itself. 

Gustavo Gutierrez articulates the cry for change in the midst of potential 

revolution and ferment in the 1970's, pointing out that, 

<T>he untenable circumstances of poverty, alienation, and exploita- 
tion in which the greater part of the people of Latin America live 
urgently demand that we find a path toward economic, social, and 
political liberation. This is the first step towards a new society. 1 

The shock waves of Latin American liberation theology are echoing 

throughout the denominational and ecumenical world. The expression of this 

theology and the resolutions of Medellin and Puebla point to the "tables being 

turned upside down." Liberation theology and the unity of third world theologians 

and justice-seeking lay people are the divining rods for movement that has been 

'Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 
1973), p. 55. 

under the surface; movement that builds in pressure until a fissure or crack liberates 
it and it rushes like a geyser into our presence. 




Liberation is the only adequate word to capture the idea that the situation 

in which Latin Americans find themselves is oppressive. The word "liberation" 

suggests a moving away from, a getting out from under something, an exit that leads 

to freedom. 

Hugo Assmann states that: 

"Liberation", taken as much in the sense of "acquiring" as of 
"recovering" liberty, is always a notion referring to a present lack of 
liberty, thereby involving a clear judgment on, and condemnation of, 
the present state of affairs. 2 

Without the setting of oppressive, life-crushing realities in Latin America (still 

present today), there might have been no talk of a need for liberation and a theology 

of liberation might not have emerged. The concreteness which gave birth to 

liberation theology is an intrinsic part of its nature; its context and its message are 

inseparable. The word "liberation" was not used only by liberation theologians or 

progressive people's groups, it was incorporated into the statements issued from the 

hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. 

Pope Paul VI, in his 1974 address Evangelii Nuntiandi (a document later 

utilized by the Puebla conference) said: 

2 Hugo Assman, Practical Theology of Liberation (London: Search Press, 1975), 
p. 47. 


We know only too well that all the energy and effort of.. .peoples 
are invested in the struggle to overcome the things that condemn them 
to live on the margin of life: hunger, chronic diseases, illiteracy, 
impoverishment, injustice in international relations and particularly in 
commercial interchanges, situations of economic and cultural neo- 
colonialism.. .etc. The Church, said the bishops <at Medellin> once 
again, has the duty to proclaim the liberation of millions of human 
beings,... <it has > the duty to help bring this liberation forth in the world, 
to bear witness to it and make sure that it is total. 31 (Italics mine) 

The sequence of the ripple, or shock waves, of a call for liberation throughout 
the church and world was 1) the reflections and voices of people in misery; 2) the 
priests, lay people and bishops hearing, seeing and reflecting along with the people; 
3) the church hierarchy (the Roman Catholic Church principally) listening to its 
bishops; 4) endorsement and exhortation by the Pope, of a need for change - of the 
Church "opting for the poor." The tone of the 1970's was one of a desperate need 
for naming the realities in order to move toward change; the church was to be 
partner and advocate of the oppressed, seeking societal and personal transformation. 

Jose Miguez Bonino explains liberation in this way: 

Liberation < paraphrasing Ruben Alves> is.. ..a project which 
springs from the protest born of the suffering of the present; a protest 
to which God grants a future in which man enters through his action. 4 

Liberation is not defined as merely an idea, but a reality that is a goal. Latin 

American liberation theology never rests or escapes into the comfort of the abstract; 

since it springs from a context of extreme poverty caused not by God, but by humans 

3 Evangelii Nuntiandi, in Puebla and Beyond , ed. John Eagleson and Philip 
Scharper (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1979), p. 30. 

4 Jose Miguez Bonino. Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation (Philadelphia: 
Fortress Press, 1975), p. 76. 


oppressing other human beings, it critically pokes and prods the "why" of this poverty 
and reflects upon it in the light of faith. Liberation theology reflects on history and 
the present realities of its own continent "with a view to action which transforms the 
present." 5 

For Gutierrez, and other liberation theologians as well, liberation will come 
about only in a totally new society, one embodying revolutionary changes; the old 
model of society, with a rich, dominant class (or nation) oppressing a poorer, 
powerless class (or nation) must be transformed. His critique is that the 
international capitalistic system is one of the root causes of the oppression for the 
majority of Latin American people. 

Another way that the Latin Americans describe liberation is liberation from 
domination by the North; this includes not only economic domination but cultural 
domination, where the values of the capitalistic economies are projected onto Latin 
America and the rest of the Third World. These are largely spoken of as 
consumerist, materialistic values; they are antithetical to the humanistic values of 
love, compassion and freedom upon which liberation theology is centered; values 
espoused in scripture and in Christianity's faith tradition. 

Liberation is also a liberation from sin, from "structural sin" which exists in 
society or at the global level; structural sin are systems or structures (government, 
economic policies, police states) which deny basic dignity and rights to people. These 
include the right to safe water, jobs with fair pay, the right to organize (labor unions), 

5 Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation , p. 12. 


to give a few examples. Structural sin, from which people deserve liberation, kills. 
The poverty it creates or exacerbates, claims peoples lives. 

I raise the issue of overall societal change here because the desire for 
liberation from oppression prompts the question "liberation into what?" Liberation 
theologians write of a totally transformed society in which the poor and marginalized 
have a voice and a better way of life; the society in which they live denies a decent 
life to most people around them, whether in the 1970's (when the first books were 
written) or the 1990's. 

Gutierrez writes a great deal about "utopia," and its usefulness within 

liberation theology; it is a key concept within the theology of liberation. "Utopia," 

like "liberation" is a loaded word, decidedly nonneutral; it is the destination of 

liberation. A "utopia of liberation" 6 suggests a model of society which 1) denounces 

the existing order, 2) announces what will be (a vision or goal) and 3) leads to action 

in the present. The concept of utopia is hopeful; it allows for an order that is more 

humane than the present one - it is the fuel for the engine of liberation. Gutierrez 


The loss of utopia is responsible for humankind's falling into 
bureaucratism and sectarianism, into new structures which oppress 
humanity. The process. not liberating if the plan for a new 
humankind in a freer society is not held to and concretized. This plan 
is not for later, when political liberation will have been attained. It 
ought to go side by side with the struggle for a more just society at all 
times. 7 


Ibid., p. 139. 

7 Ibid., p. 138. 


Where does the theology, the Christian faith part, enter into this discussion 

of liberation? God calls us to love others and to abhor exploitation of all human 

beings. The message is most explicit in the sending of Jesus Christ who serves as the 

model for our lives; he sided with the oppressed, the marginalized in society and took 

on poverty, while trying to turn his own society's values upside-down. Jesus' life and 

teachings are at the core of the theology of liberation; his acts of liberating 

encompassed loving, forgiving, healing the ones in misery, and not siding with the 

oppressors in his society. We are called to do the same if we are true to our faith 

in Christ. Linking faith to justice, Gutierrez says: 

Faith reveals to us the deep meaning of the history we fashion 
with our own hands: it teaches us that every human act which is 
oriented towards the construction of a more just society has value in 
terms of communion with God - in terms of salvation; inversely it 
teaches that all injustice is a breach with God. 8 

In the words of Clodovis and Leonardo Boff, "We have to love as such in 

whatever situation, but we also have to oppose attitudes and systems that do not 

conform to the ethical criteria of Jesus' message." 9 Love and action on behalf of 

change go hand in hand. Liberation is therefore, from a Christian viewpoint, not just 

freedom; it is the living out of Jesus' message of love of neighbor (and enemy) shown 

by justice for the poor and marginalized. 

"Ibid., p. 139. 

9 Clodovis Boff and Leonardo Boff, Introducing Liberation Theology (Mary knoll, 
New York: Orbis, 1990), p. 62 



Economic development, both its ethics and history, is central to liberation 
thought in Latin America. When people and theologians began to look around 
themselves at the condition of people's lives, they realized that in the process of 
developmentalist efforts (exclusively economic, i.e. more technology, influx of capital, 
investments in industry), the rich nations continued to grow during the 1960's, while 
the majority of people in the poorer nations faced more hardships in the wake of 
development attempts or "modernism." 

Liberation theologians included criticism of development policies (and the 
resultant dependency) in most of their writings done in the late 1970's. In order to 
talk about total liberation of people in society, they needed to address the causes of 
poverty. The evil they saw had a name and its name was "development" or what I like 
to call "imposed international capitalism," sent from the North to the South. The 
relationship that development fostered between the southern and northern nations 
was the opposite of liberation; it was one of dependence, where the "weaker" nation 
always follows the lead, and lags behind, the "stronger." The dependent one can 
never progress adequately due to this situation, which fosters domination by one at 
the expense of the other. 

In the wake of World War II, there was a belief that if the poorer nations 


simply modeled themselves after the richer, industrial nations, following the North's 
economic "lead," they would experience progress also and living conditions would 
improve within society. Jose Comblin says that the industrialized nations became 
uncomfortably aware (due in part to more global and instantaneous communication) 
of the misery that the Third World was living in - a domination and exploitation that 
had been going on for nearly 500 years however - and it wanted to help. 10 

There was also a concern in North America about post-colonial unrest in 
these newly independent countries and later, a fear of socialism taking hold as it had 
in Cuba. The belief was that development would create stability by improving 
economies, offering new opportunities and facilitating a desire for democracy; all 
were insurance that no left-leaning revolutions would take place. Access to 
resources, markets and profits to be made in the undeveloped nations, was of huge 
importance to the United States. 

Coupled with this new international awareness was new thinking in the science 
of economics which said that if one applied various mechanisms to a nation's 
economy it could be changed, which meant growth due to specific, controlled 
interventions. Economists believed that Latin America, Africa and other 
undeveloped areas could grow as the northern industrialized nation had, if only they 
would apply the same mechanisms - improved techology and accumulation or influx 

10 Jose Comblin, The Church and the National Security State (Maryknoll, New 
York: Orbis, 1989), p. 31. 


of capital. Development policies were born. 11 

Development theory assumed that if less-developed nations or regions enacted 
the mechanisms that the northern nations had, following in their footsteps, they too 
would experience growth. After the introduction of technology and an accumulation 
of capital ("assistance" to be provided by outside nations who had a stake in the 
future of the undeveloped nations), the "plum" of development could be had; Latin 
America would be modernized and everyone would benefit - people, investors, and 
world markets. 

Miguez Bonino describes the positioning for development in the 1950's and 


If these movements < introduction of technology and capital > 
could be accelerated, a "takeoff point" would arrive, after which our 
< Latin American > economies would expand naturally and the welfare 
and consumer society already present in the Northern world would also 
appear in our horizon. 12 

He and others suggest that this assumption had many fallacies. One major fallacy 

was the belief that growth was repeatable. Latin America could not repeat the 

history of the U.S. and others because it did not have a history of being a colonizer 

itself, like most developed nations did. That is, Latin America had no "head start" 

on control of markets and raw material sources like the northern nations, nor did it 

have an economy built upon slave or cheap labor. It had been colonized by others, 

used by others; now it was expected to jump forward into position alongside nations 

n Ibid., p. 31. 

12 Miguez Bonino, Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation , p. 24. 


who were reaping the benefits of an expansive capitalism begun long ago. 

So, even though the richer nations of the North (U.S. and Europe) made a 
concerted effort in roughly 1950 to 1960 to affect growth in Latin America by sending 
economists and what was called "aid" (a misnomer in light of the later global 
debt-crisis), the efforts of applying "development medicine" largely failed - life for the 
poor in Latin America remained a struggle for survival. 

This condensed version of Latin America's modern economic history would 
be incomplete without an ethical critique on development in general. Liberation 
theologians detail the history of their Latin America's economic oppression and are 
never neutral about it. Their particular Christian ethical critique is omnipresent in 
their writings, whether from today or in the 1970's. I want to focus on the ethics 
revealed in the language and ideas of development and what liberation theologians 
have to say about development. 

Development can mean many things: it can mean a state of well-being in 
which a person can reach their full human potential. It might bring forth a society 
that is able to feed and house all its people adequately; or it can mean an economic 
situation which enables a nation to enter the system of international capitalistic trade 
and lure foreign investors to its land. Liberation theologians critique development 
primarily as an economic plan, knowing in their understanding of Christian faith that 
it ought to be a humanistic, holistic model of well-being for all, but is usually just the 
opposite. The reality of development policies historically is that the gap widens 
between the rich nations and the poor ones; the ones who started later never catch 


up. Within a nation, the rich sector profits and the masses do not. There is little or 

no "trickle-down" economically for the majority; instead, profits go to those in power 

(or who manage the "developing"). The poorer nations become totally dependent on 

the richer ones and the cycle continues. 

Liberation theologians critiqued the developmentalist policies and mentality 

which failed to attack the deeper problems of widening class inequalities amid 

capitalistic efforts. The ethics of the theologians in Latin America are obvious; they 

wanted development policies that were human-centered rather than greed-centered. 

They wanted more autonomous development (or progress) that liberated people's 

lives, not a disguised new form of colonialism. Regarding the value of following in 

the footsteps of the industrialized nations of the North (applying developmentalist 

policies), Gutierrez says: 

The poor countries are not interested in modeling themselves 
after the rich countries, among other reasons because they are 
increasingly more convinced that the status of the latter is the fruit of 
injustice and coercion. It is true that the poor countries are attempting 
to overcome material insufficiency and misery, but it is in order to 
achieve a more human society. 13 

Liberation theology seeks a transformation of society so that all people are 

free to be more fully human as God wishes them to be, not living in servitude. This 

ethic reflects the analysis that the people, clergy and professional theologians of Latin 

America used to examine their socioeconomic setting. Comblin states: 

According to the new critique. ..the problem of development is 
not a technical one. It cannot be reduced to economic issues. The 

l3 Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation , p. 14. 


question is no longer the selection of a way or a model of development 
for the future. That way has been chosen and it is contrary to the 
chief postulates of the Christian message. Consequently, it must be 
opposed. Loyalty to Christianity does not consist in giving up but in 
facing the decision of the state even though it may not be possible to 
change its political program. 


Comblin goes on to say that the critique of development (or oppression of any 
kind) is prophetic; it is the opposition of people of God to that which dominates, or, 
putting it another way, fails to liberate. 

Liberation theology began, in the 1970's, to critique both the language and 
practice of development, believing that the word "liberation" and its implication was 
more appropriate than development and better-expressed the need for societal 
transformation. The word "development" had appeared in papal documents as a 
concept expressing an improved state of well-being for people within a socioeconomic 
system based on justice. 

Gutierrez and others felt that the language of development, and its ethical and 

sociological ramifications, reinforced the idea of the undeveloped nations as 

dependent; it sounded as if they had all "bought into" a flawed, unjust and entrenched 

system. Development was a safe word, one which suggested that their present 

situation was acceptable, but simply needed to grow. Gutierrez' criticism of the 

papal encyclical Populorum progressio helps explain why the Latin Americans favored 

the word "liberation:" 

The outright use of the language of liberation <in the 
document > , instead of its mere suggestion, would have given a more 

14 Comblin, The Church and the National Security State , p. 116. 


decided and direct thrust in favor of the oppressed, encouraging them 
to break with their present situation and take control of their own 
destiny. 15 

One needs to remember that Gutierrez and the other liberation theologians felt that 

the winds of revolution were blowing; the best solution was not going to be reform 

- that hadn't worked very well to date. They believed that there was a need for a 

completely transformed society if the poor and oppressed were to live in a more 

humane way. 

My own thoughts on the language of development are becoming more clear 
as I learn more about the insidiousness that is often behind policies of development, 
both in Latin America's economic past and present as well as the rest of the Third 
World. I have begun to ask "Development for whom, by whom"? Is the goal of 
development better conditions for the South, or is it for the continued growth of the 
North (including transnational corporations, etc.). Is it to insure political stability in 
order to keep the global markets fully open for those who are the big traders? When 
the nation in which I live is described as "developed," what is it that makes me 
uncomfortable? By whose sweat, slavery and exploitation have we in the North 
become "developed"? Why does it sound as if we are therefore better when this 
word is used? 

The word "developed" doesn't trouble me as much as its opposite, 
"under-developed" (as a description of a nation or geographical area). The 

15 Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation , p. 23. 


implication of the latter is that an "under-developed country" is somehow inadequately 

developed by others. It suggests a sluggish nature, a slowness of progress, an 

opportunity that is ripe for plucking (by others that is) and not an opportunity for 

self-development. The nearly automatic connection between "development" and the 

idea of dependency seems to negate the idea of self-development and 


Isn't the phrase "under-developed" inaccurate; isn't "under-exploited" or 

"under-used" more descriptive of the reality of how richer nations view the poorer or 

southern nations? That is, in the eyes of the "developers," isn't there always more 

that can be extracted or gained from these nations who lack global economic power 

or control? Hugo Assmann says: 

There is an increasing analysis of the phenomenon of under- 
development, under- stood ever more clearly as "being kept in a state 
of underdevelopment " as "a state of dependence," rather than simply 
the situation of countries "not yet developed" or "in the development 
phase." 16 (Italics mine) 

Nothing could be more well-said than this analysis of words which points out the 

actual shift of mindset by the dominated peoples. Words are full of revelation and 

mark the sign of a new consciousness of economic and cultural oppression. 

Some people are currently using the expression "developing" countries rather 

than using the past tense of this word; it seems more appropriate, less of a 

permanent condition with more suggestion of self-development. This expression has 

been used by some two-thirds world leaders; one can see a shift in how these loaded 

16 Assman, Practical Theology of Liberation , p. 45. 


words are used. The description of "under-developed," emphasizing the past tense, 
sounds like a loaf of bread that is half-baked; a condition that is hard to remedy. It 
connotes stagnation, "stuck-ness" and less value or worth. 

All of this raises the ethical issues involved when talking about progress, 
improvement and better socioeconomic conditions in Latin American or the Third 
World in general; words and language betray the truths behind history and the 
perspective we have toward other human beings. 




Development ethics and efforts within Latin America needs to include some 

discussion of dependency. Dependency theory was espoused by social scientists in 

the 1960's who saw the failed policies of development and sought to explain the 

continued inequalities between the northern nations and Latin America. The 

dynamic of dependence (viewed as an inherent part of "outside" capitalistic 

development efforts) highlights the posture of Latin America in its relationship to the 

North Atlantic nations. Each is not equally interdependent, as in a true egalitarian 

partnership: one is dependent (follows) and one is dominant (leads). Both Bonino 

and Gutierrez cite the definition of dependence given by Theotonio dos Santos: 

It is a situation in which the economy of one group of countries 
is conditioned by the development and expansion of another economy. 
The relationship of interdependence between two or more economies 
and between certain economies and world trade assumes the form of 
dependence when some countries (the dominant ones) are able to 
develop themselves while others (the dependent ones) can only reflect 
that expansion.. .In any case the basic relationship of dependence leads 
to a world-wide situation which characterizes the dependent countries 
as backward and exploited by the dominant countries. 17 

Dependent nations can only react to the dominant nations' continual and 

"successful" expansion which is facilitated by the unequal relationship. According to 

this theory, the resultant product of development is a continuation of under- 

17 Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation , p. 197, citing Theotonio dos Santos. 


development. Arthur McGovern, a Jesuit scholar, puts it this way: "<I>t was 

becoming increasingly clear that the continuing misery in Latin America was in great 

part caused by the dependency that development policies encouraged." 18 

With the influx of foreign corporations and technology brought by the 

northern nations to the southern ones through developmental policies, little improved 

because the profits from the foreign (or multi-national) corporations largely left the 

"host" country, not allowing that nation's economy to benefit from the "trickle-down" 

of entering the modern capitalistic era. McGovern explains the dynamics of this 

unequal relationship in this way: 

In this relationship, the dominant countries impose their 
dominant technology, commerce, and values on the dependent 
countries who find themselves easily exploited and subject to loss of 
revenues produced in their own countries. 19 

The results of growth continued to lay where it always had - in the hands of 

a small percentage of foreign corporations, northern financial institutions and the 

Latin American government officials and elite who colluded with them. This is a 

simplistic and somewhat skewed description of actualities; some technological 

benefits were realized due to development efforts, but my point is to illustrate what 

the relationship of dependency looked like to the social scientists and perhaps to the 

majority of the people whose lives were not greatly improved through such efforts. 

18 Arthur F. McGovern, S.J., "Dependency Theory, Marxist Analysis and 
Liberation Theology," in Expanding the View , ed. Marc H. Ellis and Otto Maduro 
(Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1989), p. 80. 

19 Ibid., p. 79. 


Miguez Bonino suggests that the idea of dependence was not a new one; it 
had, in fact, been what Latin America experienced under conquest and colonialism, 
from the 16th century on. He describes the neo-colonial forces that were at work 
during Latin America's recent economic history, saying that: "<0>ur so-called 
modernization was dictated by the needs and preferences of our overseas masters." 20 

Most Latin American liberation theologians wrote at length about dependency 
theory and its usefulness for seeing the dynamics operating amid developmentalist 
policies in a new way. Why was a discussion of dependency so important to the 
liberation theologians writing in the 70's? Dependency theory provided a perspective 
that would facilitate the ideological shift from an emphasis on development to one 
of liberation; its role was enormous. Dependency theory was one of the many forces 
which shifted people's awareness; it was another tool, like Marxist class analysis, used 
to explain why the gap between rich and poor didn't lessen after development efforts 
and modernization programs were put in place. 

Dependency theory's analysis of the inequality of the "players" in the global 
economic game is faithful to liberation theology's methodology of reflecting upon 
concrete realities shaped by history. The theory of dependency was not just factual 
information received from social scientists and economists, but was used by liberation 
theologians as a way to explain the poverty and harsh living conditions of the 
majority of the people that still existed after development efforts. 

Dependency theory offered a way to explain, critique and move away from a 

20 Miguez Bonino, Doing Theology in A Revolutionary Situation , p. 14. 


situation of domination, which suppressed the quality of life for the majority on 
whose behalf the liberation theologians advocated. Theologically-speaking, the goal 
of such analysis was to change the situation of dominance which is antithetical to 
justice, a justice consonant with the teachings of Jesus and the prophets who 
preceded him. The views of the social scientists and liberation theologians served 
as "magnifying glasses" for the poor in Latin American who eventually said "Enough!" 
to this relationship of one-way economic gain. 

What interests me most about the importance of dependency theory from the 
liberation perspective is that: 

1) it was a new tool used to critique development policies from the 
perspective of what the reality for the majority was in Latin America (the exact 
perspective liberation theology utilized in its articulation of justice); 

2) it was a critique that brought about a shift that is still with us today - a way 
of seeing what factors or powers controlled the economic situation, thereby 
explaining why modernism and development don't always work for the benefit of all; 

3) it was, most importantly perhaps, a first step toward empowerment without 
which liberation would be impossible; dependency theory did not so much bring 
about actual change in economic policies of Latin America as it did to act as a 
vehicle with which the dominated could see their own lack of power and control and 
begin to think about liberation in the many facets of their lives. 

This is not to say that the liberation (from dependence) talked about and 
desired by liberation theologians is only theoretical. Hugo Assmann explains: 


The abstract option < of liberation > has to be translated into 
action according to the circumstances. There can be no real 
commitment to liberate one's country on the general level alone. 
Liberation, if it is to be an effective revolutionary way to the ending of 
dependence, has to include the working out of a < political > strategy 
...and of the tactical steps for carrying out this strategy in the light of 
the most urgent needs. 21 

An extreme response to the reality of domination by the developed nations, would 

be for the dependent and undeveloped nations to withdraw from such a relationship. 

Some theologians, like Assmann and Gutierrez, writing in the 1970's, felt that 

autonomy for the nations of Latin America was the only viable solution to end this 

situation of dependency. At that time, there was a strong belief in the hope that a 

radical break from the past, a revolution, offered. 

Others expressed a concern with "breakaway" autonomy as a solution to 

eradicate dependency. Leonardo Boff (citing Jose Comblin) said: 

< O > ne cannot choose both complete autonomy and develop- 
ment. Compromise is necessary. If development is the goal.. .one has 
to work within the international system. 22 

Looking at the current situation of global economic interdependence, one sees 

that complete autonomy would now be impossible if not suicidal. Foreign 

corporations, operating in many nations, are entrenched and linked to the economies 

of the two-thirds world; they are not about to be told to leave the countries in which 

they have operated. Nor can a nation afford to alienate itself from the still-dominant 

21 Assman, Practical Theology of Liberation , p. 131. 

22 McGovern, "Dependency Theory, Marxist Analysis and Liberation Theology," 
p. 81. 


financial and economic powers of the world, located in the U.S., Europe and Japan, 
by pulling out of the international capitalistic economy. The best that dependency 
theory and developmentalist critique can offer, especially that done by theologians 
and social ethicists in solidarity with the people of Latin America or the third world, 
is to bring about more just practices in trade policy, tariffs, and future alliances that 
benefit both parties and which also improve the quality of life for the majority (not 
the minority) of the people in each country. 



The Conference of Latin American bishops held in Medellin, Columbia in 
1968 was a forum which expressed the reaction of the Latin American Roman 
Catholic Church looking around itself with new eyes. Those who attended the 
Medellin conference loudly described the poverty and injustice rampant on their 
continent in both pre -conference position papers as well as in the final, concise 
documents. The bishops at Medellin, influenced by the movements for peace and 
justice that followed Vatican II as well as the growing voices protesting the misery 
of the poor and the failure of effective development, took a radical stand. They 
called for urgent change which would bring the message of the gospel into 
socioeconomic structures; the sinfulness of inequalities between people (and nations) 
was described in detail. The conference noted that the gap between the rich and the 
poor was growing both in their own communities, nations and around the world. The 
fruits of economic growth (there had actually been some in Latin America, as well 
as elsewhere in the world through the 1960's) had not improved the lives of the 
majority in Latin America, that is, the poor. 

Medellin was an event of huge significance. The Latin American Roman 
Catholic Church had been aligned with the rich and the ruling class as far back as 
the conquistadores from the Old World. It had been cozy with more than one 


repressive, dictatorial government in modern times, keeping the masses in their place. 

Their reward, even as they suffered from a deprivation of their basic human needs, 

would be in heaven, according to the Church. As Philip Scharper, publisher of Orbis 

Books describes the Church's defense of the status quo: "'Thou shalt not rock the 

Ark' had become the Eleventh Commandment" for Christians in Latin America and 

beyond." 23 

In a move that was more like a conversion than anything else, the Medellin 

conference's statements embody a changing church that was willing to proclaim the 

harsh socioeconomic realities of Latin America to the world, holding up for scrutiny 

the injustices against the poor - the laborers, the peasants, the Indians - whose lives 

were previously invisible or expendable to the ruling and dominating powers. 

Gustavo Gutierrez puts it this way: 

For many people.. .the meaning of Medellin is to call the church 
to pay attention to social issues. That is true but not enough, for I 
think the meaning of Medellin is this and more. It is more radical. 
What is demanded by Medellin is to change the focus of the church - 
the center of its life and work - and to be present, really present, in the 
world of the poor - to commit the church to living in the world of the 



The Church shifted to being more engaged with the difficult social realities 
around it, advocating or requiring change on behalf of those it served, those whom 
it began to hear - the oppressed and impoverished majority. 

23 Penny Lernoux, Cry of the People (New York: Penguin Books, 1980), citing 
Scharper, p. 371. 

24 Gustavo Gutierrez, "Church of the Poor," in Born of the Poor , ed. Edward L. 
Cleary, O.P. (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990), p. 18. 


Medellin not only proclaimed that the Church must become engaged with 
changes on behalf of the poor, but it affirmed the need for the poor to become 
agents of their own change or liberation. The theme was one of conscientization, of 
the "awakening of the masses," and of organizing for social change via peaceful 
means. Gustavo Gutierrez says that "the meaning of Medellin is this: the Latin 
American church became a zealous church trying to confront its reality and take 
seriously its task <for announcing the gospel >." 25 Medellin reflected a Latin 
American Church committed to the message of Vatican II. As Marcos McGrath, the 
archbishop of Panama City who delivered a keynote paper at Medellin, put it: "The 
conference and its texts show a generous and firm advance in a church absorbing and 
living Vatican II and the working for the transformation of Latin America in the light 
of the council." 26 

The language of the Medellin document, called "The Church in the 

Present-Day Transformation of Latin America" is outspoken and passionate. An 

excerpt from the conference called "Message to the Peoples of Latin America" states: 

Latin America appears to live beneath the tragic sign of 
underdevelopment that not only separates our brothers and sisters 
from the enjoyment of material goods, but from their proper human 
fulfillment. In spite of efforts being made, there is the compounding 
of hunger and misery, of illness of a massive nature and infant 
mortality, of illiteracy and marginality, of profound inequality of 
income, and tensions between the social classes, of outbreaks of vio- 


Ibid., p. 15. 

26 Marcos McGrath, C.S.C., "The Medellin and Puebla Conferences and Their 
Impact on the Latin American Church," in Cleary, Born of the Poor , p. 79. 


lence and rare participation of the people in decisions affecting the 
common good. 27 

The statements made by the Medellin bishops don't mince words or try to pretend 

that the situation around them is acceptable. They state the realities clearly and 

repeatedly in a way never heard before in the Roman Catholic Church in Latin 


It is of minimal significance that the statements made, and what Medellin now 
stands for in history, did not reflect the views of all the bishops; the end result of the 
conference was the legitimation and embracing of the message of liberation theology and 
a commitment, through action and education, to changing both society and attitudes 
toward those who were at the bottom of the economic ladder. Medellin was a call 
to action for all Christians in Latin America - clergy, lay people, grass roots 
organizations, business owners, bankers and government officials - to live the gospel 
message in everyday life, in all parts of society and its institutions. The Church took 
a stand with and for the oppressed for whom liberation was a necessity; a stand they 
felt that was the only faithful response that Christians in Latin America could take. 
The theological message of liberation gained momentum at many levels, catalyzed 
by the conference at Medellin. 

The economic climate of 1968 in Latin America is revealed in Medellin's 
critique of a non-human centered model of development and economic policies that 

27 Second General Conference of Latin American Bishops, "The Church in the 
Present-Day Transformation of Latin America in the Light of the Council," in 
Liberation Theology: A Documentary History , ed. Alfred T. Hennelly (Maryknoll, 
New York: Orbis, 1990), p. 90. < Conference known as Medellin, 1968. > 


do not seek the common good. Development, in the late 1960's, was being criticized 
by social scientists and academics within Latin America. They revealed a dangerous 
dependency (i.e. domination by the northern nations) inherent in development 
policies and efforts which were simply not working to improve the lives for the 
majority. In addition, there was a rise in the military regimes within Latin America 
during the 1960's and a growing unrest of people who had been promised a great 
deal but received only fewer jobs, poor housing, loss of land and ongoing 
impoverishment. The bishops at Medellin became the loudspeaker that broadcast 
the message of the masses to the Church and the world. 

In writing Medellin's final document, the bishops made it clear that they were 
naming the evils in society and the international setting, calling for transformation 
in light of the message of the gospel, but they were not designing the strategy for 
societal reform. They said: "We do not have technical solutions or infallible 
remedies. We wish to feel the problems, perceive the demands, share the agonies, 
discover the ways, and cooperate in the solutions." 28 

The Medellin documents devote a significant amount to examples of economic 

injustices, critiquing things at the macro level by citing examples from daily life which 

they witnessed in their pastoral work with the people: 

<P>easants < demand > better conditions of life; or if they are 
workers, better prices and security in buying and selling; the growing 
middle class feels frustrated by the lack of expectations.. ..the small 
businessmen and industrialists are pressed by greater interests and not 

28 Ibid, p. 91. 


a few large Latin American industrialists are gradually coming to be 
dependent on the international business enterprises. 29 

The bishops went on to say that they could not ignore the "collective anguish" that 

existed as a result of concrete, economic and social injustices and deeply flawed 

structures around them. In the "Document on Peace," they said that the "temptation 

to violence" was rising understandably in Latin America, where peoples' patience has 

been abused in the face of continued oppression and worsening economic 

conditions. 30 The expression "institutionalized violence" came out of Medellin and 

it can be best explained by the excerpt from the "Document on Peace." It states: 

<I>n many instances Latin America finds itself faced with a 
situation of injustice that can only be called institutional violence, when, 
because of a structural deficiency of industry and agriculture, of 
national and international economy, of cultural and political life, 
"whole towns lack necessities, live in such dependence as hinders all 
initiative and responsibility as well as every possibility for... 
participation in social and political life," thus violating fundamental 
rights. 31 (Italics mine) 

Regarding the need or right for participation in society, the Medellin bishops 

said that workers deserved a voice in creating a more human workplace and 

economic system. Authentic development, full human realization of aspirations, was 

owed to the people of Latin America who "experience a situation of dependence on 

inhuman economic systems and institutions: a situation which, for many of them, 

29 Ibid., p. 98. 

30 Ibid., p. 110. 

31 Ibid., p. 110; citing Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio. 

borders on slavery, not only physical but also professional, cultural, civic and 
spiritual." 32 

At the international economic level, the Medellin document makes statements 
that point to critical areas that worsen in the 1980's, such as the growing dependency 
on the North and the dangers of this (e.g.entangling foreign debt). It acknowledges 
that the poorer nations need to be heard by the richer nations and inequalities of 
trade and investment addressed. This was a prophetic cry that is still being heard 
today as nations of the two-thirds world push for a "new international economic 
order" based on just principles for all involved. 

With regard to growing industrialization, the bishops were not romantic and 

simplistic; they realized that it was not necessarily evil or able to be stopped. The 

Medellin document states, in the section called "Direction of Social Change," that 

industrialization is necessary to any independent economy participating in world 

trade, but warns that: 

<I>t is indispensable to revise plans and reorganize national 
macroeconomics, preserving the legitimate autonomy of our nation, 
and allowing for just grievances of the poorer nations and for the 
desired economic integration of the continent, respecting always the 
inalienable rights of the person and of intermediary structures, as the 
protagonists of this process. 33 

In the "Document on Peace," examples of factors contributing to "international 

tensions and external neocolonialism" are given. These are: 

32 Ibid, p. 101. 
33 Ibid., p. 103. 


- Value of raw materials being eroded (in the face of manufactured products which 
always earn more) 

- Capital and human flight; investments and profits leave Latin America & trained 
personnel also 

- Tax evasion; multi-national corporations in collusion with governments avoid taxes, 
nations lose capital 


- Growing debt burden a "possibility 

- "International imperialism of money" condemned by two previous popes; 
encroaching economic dictatorships of northern nations due to insatiable greed. 35 

I find this particular section an extraordinary critique and analysis because it 
does not sound like bishops speaking; it contains language and ideas one would 
expect to come from economists or ethicists or politically progressive groups. The 
integration of economic critique that is specific and forceful with recommendations 
for church reform and solidarity with the oppressed is skillful, prophetic and 
manifests the foundations of a unique Latin American liberation theology which the 
world would take notice of. 

The Medellin conference was not just prophetic at the ideological level; the 
documents reflect solid, socioeconomic critique and broad recommendations for new 
ways to approach old problems. Medellin's suggestions, or demands, address the 
actions that the church should take at the pastoral level regarding transforming 
society and empowering the poor, educating all within the church (hierarchy 

^If only they had known then how critical an issue the debt would be and how 
it would "strangle" their continent; I address this later in the paper. 

35 Medellin document in Hennelly. Liberation Theology: A Documentary History , 
pp. 107-108. 


included) regarding social problems, as well as zeroing in on where the problems 
within society can be addressed. Medellin called for the most enormous shift of 
perspective; for seeing things in Latin America with new eyes and moving toward 
change with unprecedented energy and commitment in the light of faith. 

Several changes in the church occurred as a result of the Medellin conference 
and the Puebla one which followed - 1) discussions of the poor began to be set in 
class terms, using some of the tools provided by Marxist analysis; 2) ordinary, real 
life experiences were valued for contributing to religious and political understanding; 
3) "immersion experiences" of living among the poor became popular for religious 
men and women, clergy and lay people. 36 

Medellin affirmed the value and need for ecclesial base communities, or 
Christian base communities, which were one of the most effective means for 
evangelization and self-empowerment of the poor. Although my paper does not 
address their impact and growth, ecclesial base communities permanently 
transformed people's experience of Christian life; their shared experience of faith was 
done at the base level, within their communities, among their neighbors, and the 
church would never be the same again. The hierarchy of the church were not the 
sole mediators between God and the people any longer. 

36 Daniel H. Levine, "The Impact and Lasting Influence of Medellin and Puebla," 
in Cleary, Born of the Poor , pp. 66-67. 


Moving liberation forward: from Medellin to Puebla 

Puebla, Mexico was the site of the next major conference of Latin American 

bishops, theologians and lay people. The conference took place in 1979 and its 

nature was different than Medellin, while the heart of its message reiterated a 

commitment to the poor and to being a servant church. The overall title for the final 

document of Puebla connotes its need to center the concerns of the church not only 

in social and pastoral issues, but with its mission to spread the Good News of the 

kingdom; the title was "Evangelization in Latin America's Present and Future." 

Covering all the bases, the introduction to the final document explains it in this way: 

Throughout the course of a rich historical experience, filled with 
bright moments and dark shadows, the great mission of the Church has 
been its committed involvement in faith with the human being of Latin 
America: with that person's eternal salvation, spiritual victory, and full 
human development. 37 

The context for the Puebla conference helps one understand its complexity and the 

effort and struggle involved to finalize the enormously long documents that were the 

product. Unlike the Medellin conference, there had been a two-year preparation 

period for Puebla; papers were circulated, preliminary meetings were held, and the 

conservative factions within the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America exerted 

their influence. The conservative hierarchy within the church did not like the 

direction that Medellin had taken with regard to liberation ideas and class analysis 

language in favor of a transformed servant church. 

37 Third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, "Evangelization 
in Latin America's Present and Future," in Puebla and Beyond , eds. John Eagleson 
and Philip Scharper (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1979), p. 126. 


Without explaining all the gyrations involved at Puebla, the conservative 
faction did not triumph over the progressive bishops and theologians and base 
community representatives. While only the bishops were permitted to vote, the 
"outside-the-conference-haH" influence of the people who wanted to press forward the 
agenda and stance of Medellin was significant. In the end, the core of Medellin's 
stance was maintained, if not strengthened. Penny Lernoux describes Puebla as a 
rejection of a throwback to an authoritarian church allied with the upper and middle 
classes and states that "< Puebla > not only reconfirmed the commitment made at 
Medellin, but went beyond it, as, for example, in singling out the base communities 
as a model for evangelization." 38 

Puebla's denunciations of the injustices apparent in the socioeconomic context 
were strong and detailed. Within the final document, not only is the economic 
situation described (as at Medellin) but the causes for poverty are outlined. It states 
that the free-market economy "has increased the gap between the rich and the poor 
by giving priority to capital over labor, economics over the social realm." 39 This was 
not so unusual a message, but the bishops went on to describe the failures and 
dangers of development policies that allow the rich to profit but keep the poor in 
miserable situations. 

In the face of economic crises concurrent with some growth in Latin America 

38 Penny Lernoux, "The Journey from Medellin and Puebla: Conversion and 
Struggle," in Born of the Poor , p. 53. 

39 Puebla #47, in Eagleson and Scharper, Puebla and Beyond . 


during the 1970s, which benefitted already-affluent investors and those aligned with 

foreign interests, Puebla pointed out that: 

These cycles < of economic crisis accompanying modernization > 
intensify the sufferings of our people when a cold-hearted technocracy 
applies developmental models that extort a truly human price from 
those who are poorest. And this is all the more unjust insofar as the 

price is not shared by all." - 

The bishops went on to detail the "underlying roots of these realities" which 
were causing the growing gap between rich and poor people, making poverty the 
growing by-product of modernization throughout the continent. 

The Puebla final document states that the causes for poverty and huge 
economic inequalities are: 1) economic systems that are not human-centered: 2) 
nations as "small entities" negotiating ineffectively for change rather than as a larger 
bloc: 3) dependence, self-centered and damaging multinational corporations, and 
unfair trade policies (and low prices of raw materials); 4) the arms race - money- 
drain on societal projects that improve people's lives; 5) bad agricultural policies that 
rob the peasants of access to land and ability to market product: 6) the ethic of 
materialism and dominion over the world (sinfulness). 41 

Puebla mirrored the beliefs of the social scientists and economists who created 
a theory of dependency which held that development policies were accompanied by 
resultant dependency and continued underdevelopment for Latin .America. The 
Puebla document claims that two contradictorv tendencies have manifested 

40 Puebla #50. 
41 Puebla #63-70. 


themselves since Medellin: the growing efforts toward modernization and increasing 
focus on technology (especially in urban areas), as well as the "the pauperization and 
growing exclusion of the vast majority of Latin Americans from production." 42 The 
result of this, they say, is that the wealth remains in the hands of a privileged 
minority; the benefits of technology and development do not help the quality of life 
improve for the majority who are poor - they, in fact, are multiplying as a result. 
"The growing affluence of a few people parallels the growing poverty of the 



Perhaps what is most remembered about the Puebla conference is the call for 

the church to make visible in its pastoral commitments and ecclesial positions "a 

preferential option for the poor." This key phrase calls for a church that shows or 

gives a preference to the most exploited and ignored group in Latin America: the 

poor. This did not mean that all other groups were to be excluded or ignored by the 

church, but the poor and the causes of their poverty were to be a focus for the 

church as it carried out its mission of evangelization. The exact passage from 

Puebla's final document explains the "why" of a commitment to this preferential 


With renewed hope in the vivifying power of the Spirit, we are 
going to take up once again the position of... Medellin, which adopted 
a clear and prophetic option expressing preference for, and solidarity 
with, the poor. We do this despite the distortions and interpretations 
of some, who vitiate the spirit of Medellin, and despite the disregard 

42 Puebla#1207. 
43 Puebla #1209. 


and even hostility of others. We affirm the need for conversion on the 
part of the whole Church to a preferential option for the poor, an option 
aimed at their integral liberation. 44 (Italics mine) 

When the contributors to the Puebla documents assessed the ten years since 

Medellin, they realized that the economic situation of the poor had not improved, 

nor had it remained the same. It had, in fact, worsened. The "cry of the poor" 

acknowledged at Medellin was still there; justice and respect for basic human rights 

in Latin America which the poor cried out for had eluded them. Puebla states: 

The cry might well have seemed muted back then. Today it is 
loud and clear, increasing in volume and intensity, and at times full of 
menace. ..Our mission to bring God to human beings, and human 
beings to God, also entails the task of fashioning a more fraternal 
society here. 45 

Briefly touching upon the controversy of liberation theology's purported 

endorsement of Marxism, which surfaced within the different factions of the church 

between Medellin and Puebla, there is no question that liberation theologians used 

the tools and class analysis of Marxist political and economic theory. Both Medellin 

and Puebla address this issue in more than one place in their documents, criticizing 

both liberal capitalism as well as Marxism for their tendency to erode the centrality 

of human dignity. Puebla's final document warns of overreaction within the church 

to the scapegoat of Marxism which might deprioritize the push for social justice: 

Fear of Marxism keeps many < in the Church > from facing up 
to the oppressive reality of liberal capitalism. One could say that some 
people, faced with the danger of one clearly sinful system, forget to 

"Puebla #1134. 
45 Puebla #89-90. 


denounce and combat the established reality of another equally sinful 
system. 46 

The bishops at Puebla emphasized that Marxism had often been concretized 
in repressive totalitarian regimes which were antithetical to everything that liberation 
theology espoused, therefore it could not be considered an acceptable doctrine for 
Christians who sought full human development and participation for all within 

Additionally, Puebla expressed a concern for the methodology that Marxist 
analysis might foster: "The consequences < of a praxis based primarily on Marxist 
analysis > are the total politicization of Christian existence, the disintegration of the 
language of faith into that of social sciences, and the draining away of the 
transcendental dimension of Christian salvation." 47 Puebla stood in a middle 
position ultimately, not succumbing to the pressures of reactionary conservative 
forces within the Latin American church hierarchy, nor claiming to be a church that 
advocated revolution as its theology. 

Just as Puebla proclaimed a worsened situation for the oppressed majority 

within Latin America since Medellin, economist Jose Pablo Arellano expresses the 

situation of continued misery for the poor and powerless from the viewpoint of the 


<T>he conditions of injustice that Medellin denounced 
certainly have not lessened and frequently have been aggravated 

46 Puebla #92. 
47 Puebla #545. 


because of economic and social stagnation of recent years. The 
situation today desperately requires the proclamation and healing 
effect of hope. The church should inspire this hope and should 
encourage whoever can to find new forms of confronting our 
socioeconomic problems. We should remember that crises frequently 
generate opportunities to find new paths. 48 

The prophetic message and witness of the Latin American church has remained 

strong for the past twenty-five years in the face of conservative factions within the 

church and would-be censors from outside the church also. The growing 

conservatism of the official, hierarchical church (initiated by the Vatican) may create 

a network of bishops who will try to move the church backwards to a pre-Medellin 

frame of mind. Surprisingly, Gustavo Gutierrez remains more optimistic now, in the 

1990's, than he was back in the early days of liberation theology. He explains it in 

this way: 

What is new in Latin America is not oppression and repression; 
unfortunately, both are very old problems for our continent. What is 
new in Latin America in the last years is a different historical, social, 
and political consciousness among the poor. What is new is the 
grassroots organization of people, poor persons striving for their 
rights.. ..The poor must take <and are taking > their destiny into their 
own hands. 49 

The messages of Medellin, Puebla and of the liberation theologians has been 

consistent; as Gutierrez puts it, the church must be fully present in the world of, as 

well as in service to, the poor, both in Latin America and throughout the world if it 

48 Jose Pablo Arellano, "An Economist Views Medellin and the Present Crisis," 
in Cleary, Born of the Poor , p. 142. 

49 Gutierrez, "Church of the Poor," in Cleary, Born of the Poor, p. 21. 


is to be faithful to the message of the gospel. The message of Christ has never 




Origin and Effects of the International Debt Crisis 

Some of the major works of liberation theology were written in the 1970's, 
describing and critiquing the economic setting of Latin America at that time. The 
situation described was one of failed development efforts, of relationship with the 
North characterized as dependent and dangerous, and an awareness that poverty and 
misery for the masses of Latin America had not abated. The reality of the debt crisis 
(which would strangle the Third World and most of Latin America) evolved during 
the 1970's, worsened during the 1980's, and remains a key issue in the global 
economy of the 1990's. Liberation theologians, popular movement groups and 
churches continue to name the debt crisis as a key concern in the battle for survival 
in Latin America. 

Describing the whole truth of the Latin American economic context requires 
some discussion and history of this more recent form of dependency: external debt. 
The dependency is now upon the international financial institutions as well as other 
governments, solidified by the terms of the loans that have been extended to, or 
foisted upon, Latin America. 

The most prevalent myth about the debt crisis is the one which suggests that 
the Third World nations are solely to blame for the crisis; that their mismanagement 


or avariciousness created the crisis. Instead, the blame belongs to many parties. The 
culpability of the international banks, financiers and northern governments becomes 
obvious as one looks at the facts. Also, the economic climate of the international 
capitalistic economy is as much a cause as it is a backdrop for the debt crisis of the 
southern nations of the world - a crisis that still is misunderstood but one which 
claims many victims in its "path." 

The international debt crisis didn't start out as a crisis. It started out as a 
result of too much money flooding the markets, coupled with banks that capitalized 
on an opportunity to make easy money with huge profits and unwise, if not downright 
dangerous advice, being given to both lenders and borrowers. Still, this is too 
simplistic a description. Some facts may help point out the crisis nature of this 
situation and its undeniable link to poverty and hunger throughout the Third world. 

The total debt of the Third World (using 1990 figures) is $1,319,000,000,000; 
that is, $1,319 trillion. An example of the magnitude of the debt and the impact of 
interest rate increases is that between 1978 and 1983, the interest payments of Latin 
America on its debt increased by 360%. 50 Budget cuts in aid such as food subsidies 
and health programs (a siphoning-off to pay for the debt and austerity measures 
required by creditors) resulted in the deaths of one million African children over the 
past decade, according to a Unicef study. 51 The effects are similar in Latin 
America and throughout the South in that the money which a government might use 

50 Ibid., p. 149. 
5, Ibid., p. 149. 


for social programs to improve life for its citizens goes toward servicing the enormous 
debt's interest rates. 

The word "aid" (often applied to what are in fact loans) begins to look like a 
misnomer. Most people tend to think of aid not as loans with giant, insidious strings 
attached or as military aid meant to serve creditors' interests, but as benevolent 
assistance from prosperous nations helping those in need. The facts of the debt crisis 
prove this to be false, unfortunately. 

Bank facts', foreign profits of the seven biggest US banks went from 22% in 
1970 to 60% in 1982. "The total net transfer of cash from the Third World to the 
rich countries rose from $7 billion in 1981 to $56 billion (1983) to $74 billion 
(1985)." 52 

Trade facts help illustrate the magnitude of the debt also: 

Most people think that the rich world helps the poor world by 
sending it aid. The sad reality is that, even at the best of times, the 
amount the First World sends in aid is less than half of what we take 
from the Third World in terms of the tariffs and duties we impose on 
the raw materials they sell us.. ..According to the figures published by 
the World Bank in 1990 the countries of the Third World in the 
previous year sent some $52,000,000,000 more in debt repayments than 
they received < in aid > from us. 53 

During the 1970's and 1980's, a small "fire" of increased debt turned into an 

out-of-control blaze, consuming the victimized poor in its path. The champions of 

free market trade and of borderless capitalism fanned the flames with their 

52 Ibid., pp. 161-162. 

53 Paul Vallely, Bad Samaritans (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1990), p. 4. 


oppressive loan terms, higher-than-market interest rates, and required adjustment 

A common understanding is that the OPEC oil price increase in 1973 was the 
beginning of the debt crisis. It is true that the Third World nations, already 
immersed in development projects funded by the northern banks, needed more funds 
to buy oil to transport their cash crops for export and to keep their capital cities 
going, but the debt problem began well before this when northern banks had excess 
money and encouraged poorer nations to borrow from them in order to keep up, or 
catch up, with the industrialized North. 54 

Loans were arranged with the developing countries by overly eager banks that 
had bought money cheaply on the world market and were well in place before the 
oil crisis in 1973. 55 The reservations that some bankers and economists had about 
the Third World debtors' ability to pay back the loans were ignored by the World 
Bank and other lenders who pushed projects forward with the borrowing countries. 

(Back to the mid 1970's and oil price increases): Latin America and the rest 
of the Third World had to refinance their loans, at higher interest rates, of course, 
and with stricter terms. The OPEC nations invested their profits in northern banks 
who needed to lend it out to earn the interest owed OPEC. The banks (in Europe 
and the US) were competing keenly for new customers and the short term easy 
profits to be made were more important than sound and responsible borrowing 

"Ibid., p. 149. 

"Cheryl Payer, Lent and Lost (New Jersey: Zed books, Ltd., 1991). 



Some of the borrowed money was spent as irresponsibly by the Third World 

as it had been foisted upon them. The money went for more expensive but needed 

oil, interest payments, weapons (excessive in some cases), bribes to local rich elite, 

and grandiose projects like dams and power plants expected to encourage foreign 

investment. 56 The oil saga continued; prices rose again and the Third World came 

back to the well for more loans to keep up. This time the interest rates were higher 

again (the loans were not fixed rate ones) and the terms subject to the International 

Money Funds's stamp of approval and control over borrowers' economies. Julio De 

Santa Ana, a theologian from Uruguay, illustrates the changes in interest rates as 


Till 1978-9, the rate charged by the private banks of the North 
varied between 6 and 8% per annum. Towards the end of 1979 it shot 
up to 20%, remaining at around 15% for several years. It began to 
come down in 1984, and now stands <in 1986 > at around 9.5% (which 
is certainly higher than can be considered 'normal').... This international 
usury is designed to consolidate the security of the rich. But this 
security is bought with the blood of the poor. 57 

In addition to oil price increases and more loans at higher rates, there was a 

widespread recession in the early 1980's and the South could not sell its exports to 

the North at former prices. Their earnings fell and new loans had to be negotiated 

again simply to service their debt, that is to make the required payments. People in 


Vallely, pp. 149-158 passim. 

"Julio De Santa Ana, "How the Rich Nations Came to be Rich," in Option for 
the Poor: Challenge to the Rich Countries , eds. Leonardo Boff and Virgil Elizondo 
(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Ltd., 1986), pp. 14-15. 


Latin America earned less due to a soft export market and had less buying power; 

their standards of living, already bad, worsened. 

During this time, the banks were silent on the important issues; they were 

blind to the fact that the oil prices might not come down soon and that the 

commodity prices would not go up. The banks did not suggest cutbacks on spending 

and development to Third World borrowers; they simply let them go on with original 

plans - plans recommended and even required by the lenders. 58 A harsh analogy 

might be to describe the banks as drug pushers, giving countries a sample "taste" and 

getting them hooked, then raising the price of the drugs while "helping" the user fund 

their habit. 

The IMF and World Bank, which were touted by the creditor 
governments and banks as the institutions holding a monopoly of 
wisdom on how to put a debtor's financial house in order, were in 
reality inciting its clients to heavier spending and more borrowing. 
This subverted the borrower's ability to service their debts in the long 
run, but in the short run it served perfectly the desires of the creditor 
governments which control those institutions to maximize their access 
to markets in the target countries. The Fund and Bank must be 
considered among the major perpetrators of the debt crisis. 59 (Italics 

The poor of the debtor nations never had a voice in any of this - it was a 

game played only at the top. But the "structural adjustments" and austerity programs 

imposed by the IMF and other institutions affected the daily lives of the citizens and 

especially the poor. The point of these "adjustments" is to rechannel a nations's 

58 Payer, Lent and Lost , p. 75. 
59 Ibid., p. 82. 


income and resources to insure that the loans are paid back - it is never (as it should 

instead be) to see how much can be paid on a loan without major hardship to the 

people. 60 Measures taken in adjustment programs are that wages get lowered, 

social programs are cut (health care and education), and the currency devalued. 

Barriers to imports are dropped and imports from creditors' countries that may 

compete with local products flow in, a shameful testimony to the so-called free 

market trade system. Within the international financial community there are no 

protections set in place which guarantee fair prices on exports from the Third World 

who rely mostly on exports of raw materials. 

Nothing sums up the shared blame for the decades of debt crisis better than 

Paul Vallely's words from Bad Samaritans: 

The IMF seems fixed in its view that most of the blame for all 
this belongs primarily with the Third World governments. But.. .there 
is a clear order of culpability. It begins with an unfair order, 
established through violence and exploitation. It proceeds through a 
series of mechanisms of trade and finance which.. .are inherently loaded 
against the poor. It continues through the wilful refusal of the rich 
nations to make any serious concessions.. .It extends through the 
responsibility of the oil-producing nations which sought maximum profit 
from the money they squeezed from the industrialized world.. .It 
persists through the banks which sought to make, and are still making, 
large profits from the oil bonanza in a bout of reckless lending. It 
touches the governments of the Western world which abdicated the 
responsibility to control this cash surge for the general good. It ends 
with the elites of the Third World who borrowed irresponsibly and used 
the money inefficiently and even corruptly. 61 (Italics mine) 

The debt crisis in Latin America is not only an economic crisis that affects the 

'"Vallely, Bad Samaritans , p. 187. 
61 Ibid., p. 188. 


international financial community or creates shrinking markets for international 

capitalism; it is much more than this. It is a crisis that kills the poor people of Latin 

America; it kills them less overtly than weapons and war, but it surely kills through 

disease, hunger, violence and repression. 

The terms of the foreign debt, imposed by the international financial lenders, 

strangles the amount of money that the South has for improving the quality of 

people's lives. Nations deep in debt are commanded to improve opportunities for 

outside investors but to minimize improvements for the poor who are landless and 

jobless. As Jimmy Carter said in a 1987 interview: 

There are probably fifty nations on the earth now that will 
never repay the principal on their debt and in which it takes a 
substantial proportion of their earnings just to service their debt. < In 
the developed nations > we look upon this as an attack on the sub- 
stantiality or profitability of our bank stock. But with those people it's 
life or death. 62 

There is an ethical, moral imperative to solving this international debt crisis 

which affects two-thirds or more of the world's population. Future development 

projects or any form of legitimate assistance will be sabotaged by the magnitude of 

this financial crisis in the Third World. International solutions to the debt crisis 

reality must be found or Latin America will be the defeated outcast in a new world 

order and the majority of its people will continue to die of hunger, disease and 

political/military repression and violence. 

62 Jimmy Carter, "Meaningful Alternatives," in An Agenda for the 21st Century , 
ed. Rushworth M. Kidder (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987), p. 179. 


Latin America Now: The Post-Cold-War Era & Evolving New World Order 

The social and economic situation of Latin America since the early days of 
liberation theology, the Medellin conference in 1968, and after the "lost decade" of 
spiralling debt in the 1980's is even more somber. Conditions for the majority of 
people have worsened and the tone is often one of pessimism, impotence and 
frustration. The number of Latin American people living in poverty went from 1 12 
to 184 million between 1980 and 1990, according to the U.N. Economic Commission 
on Latin America. It is apparent that the alternatives which were implemented in 
the 1980's have largely failed. 63 

There are now less government expenditures on public projects or social 
programs in all countries of Latin America; unemployment is rampant and larger 
numbers of people lack basic human needs. Economies are focused on debt 
servicing and not on investments for sustainable growth. The majority of people, the 
poor of Latin America, find that the quality of their lives in the 1990's is even more 
miserable than before. This is the reality at the start of a new century, in the 
unfolding new world order and post-Cold War era. 

The end of the Cold War between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union 
along with the democratization of eastern Europe signal the downfall of communism 
in the western world. This is extended to demonstrate, perhaps erroneously, the 
non- viability of socialism also - but that is a conversation too lengthy to have here. 

63 Luis Ugalde, S.J., "The Present Crisis of Society and the Church," in Cleary, 
Born of the Poor , p. 116. 


The important facts are that this new post-Cold War era creates both problems as 
well as opportunities for Latin America within its borders and in its relationships 
with the rest of the world. 

With the end of the Cold War, the threat or hope (depending on one's 
viewpoint) of communism or socialism taking hold in Latin America has virtually 
disappeared. Jorge Castaneda, a political scientist, points out that the end of a 
"Soviet threat" has both positive and negative repercussions, particularly as to how 
it affects U.S. policy toward Latin America. 

Castaneda points out that the U.S. can no longer use the pretext of stopping 
the spread of communism, or preventing the USSR from gaining a stronghold, as 
permission to fund counterrevolutionary forces and intervene militarily in Latin 
America (e.g. supporting the Contras in Nicaragua, military assistance for the rightist 
government of El Salvador). He points out that while the U.S. might interfere less 
in Latin America now that the "evil empire" has fallen, it is also likely that new 
pretexts for U.S. meddling will be found. In fact, new pretexts have been steadily 
evolving and appear regularly in news events involving Latin America: drug 
enforcement, immigration deterrence, political instability and regional conflicts. 64 

What will the real reasons be, beyond the pretexts, for continued U.S. 
interference in Latin America's affairs? The answer can only be economic interests. 
(Whether it has actually been anything else is an interesting question.) In the new 

^Jorge Castaneda, "Latin America and the End of the Cold War." Cross Currents 
(Summer 1991): 196-197. 


world order, economic power is as important as military power. In fact, military 
power may now be used primarily to protect or create economic power. 

The U.S. and other northern nations would lose major economic power if they 
did not maintain economic and political control over Latin America and other 
countries that have the natural resources they need, especially oil. The U.S. also 
needs to increase, as well as maintain, the domain of international capitalism via 
multinational corporations in Latin America (many U.S.-owned) and financial 
institutions if it is to maintain its power within the global economy. Consequently, 
the U.S. will find justification for continued control of Latin America's policies; 
economic and political autonomy for nations within Latin America will be hard-won 
if not impossible. 

Debt payments, the most key tether that connects Latin America to the U.S. 
and Europe, undergirds the profit-making of international lending institutions, which 
are heavily-influenced by the U.S., and may motivate continued U.S. engagement in 
Latin American politics. Maintaining "stability" in Latin America is a pretext for 
military intervention, even without the threat of impending communist control; the 
Pentagon calls this low intensity conflict and it enables Latin America's life-blood 
(capital) to continue flowing to the North. 

As Xabier Gorostiaga states: "Debt has substituted the direct investment of 
the 1970's < which might help a nation grow> as a mechanism to extract net 


financial transfers out of Latin America." 65 During the conquest and colonization 
of Latin America, Spain and Portugal extracted gold and other raw materials for 
their own development and economic power; natural resources are now over- 
shadowed by the "extraction" of enormous amounts of money required to service old 
debts and fuel the international financial empire. 

So, while the U.S. may intervene less militarily and overtly in Latin America 
due to the end of the Cold War, it may also use new justifications for continued 
manipulation. The recent tone of many Latin Americans is one of cautious optimism 
and a conviction that new forms of relationships must be forged with nations that 
hold economic and military power, that is, primarily the U.S., along with Europe and 
Japan. As Luis Ugalde suggests: 

Surely the diminishment of pressures from an "external enemy" 
(in this case, communism) will permit and oblige our countries and the 
United States to approach the solution to their social problems in a 
less repressive and warlike manner. In summary, we say that the only 
option open to Latin America in the immediate future is international 
negotiations and that the principal participant is the United States. 66 

Latin America's need for new international relationships must be preceded by 

a revamped relationship with the United States; 67 how this will be done, and what 

it will look like is still being visualized. The complexities of trade, debt, democracy 

and militarization are immense. And beyond this, what will relationships within the 

65 Xabier Gorostiaga, "Latin America in the 'New World Order/" Envio (August 

^Ugalde, "The Present Crisis of Society and the Church," p. 124. 

67 Ibid., p. 123. 


new world order look like; how does Latin America fit into it; how and by whom 

will it be shaped? Xabier Gorostiaga describes what a humane new world order 

looks like: 

A truly global world requires an alliance of common values able 
to link together 21st-century civilization. It is an alliance of common 
material interests in the face of shared threats (ecological crisis, 
security and disarmament, regional crisis, etc.) Without this alliance, 
imposed political power will determine the future within the very same 
parameters that have brought us to civilization's current crisis. 68 

One of the greatest fears of Latin Americans is that the post-Cold War era 
could exacerbate the growing trend toward being forgotten, or left out of all 
assistance programs in the form of aid from other countries or private investments 
and credit. This is often referred to as the "Africanization" of Latin America, 
referring to Africa's diminished importance in aid allocations and development 
programs in the 1990's. 

The development and reform policies (often under the guise of humanitarian 
economic assistance) that were employed in order to insure stability from the 1960's 
to the 1980's are of less importance to the North now. Where the focus of economic 
critique and analysis expressed by either liberation theologians or economists had 
been on development ethics (especially in the 1970's), the realities of the 1990's 
reshape this discussion. As Pablo Richard puts it: "Capitalism no longer has any 
competition <from socialism >, and thus no longer needs a human face;" a more 

68 Gorostiaga, "Latin America in the 'New World Order,' p. 42. 


savage and ruthless capitalism can encroach more freely on Latin America. 69 

Writing in 1992, Richard says: 

In today's capitalism, the dichotomies of development-liberation, 
reform-liberation and dependency-liberation lose their meaning. Today 
the radical confrontation is between life and death. Capitalism is 
abandoning its reform and development policies for the South as a 
whole.... < The South > can no longer be called dependent, but is simply 
nonexistent. We have moved from dependency to dispensability; today 
being dependent even seems to be a privilege. 70 

Latin Americans are also concerned with the western world's interest in 
development and investment in the formerly-communist countries of eastern Europe 
and Russia's republics. They rightfully fear that the pieces of the pie will be sliced 
differently now and they will obtain a smaller and smaller piece of government aid 
and private investment. 

In addition, with the economic focus on the current North American Free 
Trade Agreement between Mexico, Canada and the U.S., and the former Soviet 
Union's need for stability, Latin America as a continent is currently fading from the 
spotlight of international attention. Castaneda says that "Latin America is woefully 
out of fashion, perhaps out of date;" he feels that it may find itself being ignored by 
the rest of the world as well as adjusting to new U.S. pressures on its policies. 71 

There is a diminished need of raw materials in production processes of the 
North, which is reducing the prices that Latin America or Africa can earn from 

69 Pablo Richard, "Liberation Theology Today: Crisis or Challenge," Envio 2 
(August 1992):25. 

70 Ibid., pp. 25-26. 

71 Castaneda, "Latin America and the End of the Cold War," p. 203. 


exports, a chief source of capital for paying off or at least servicing their debt. Even 
labor, a formerly-desirable resource in these regions, plays less importance to the 
international economy which is becoming more automated and less people- 
dependent. 72 The squeeze of these forces puts strains upon an already-strained 
Latin America. 

Not only is capitalism less humane now, but it is a "sacrificial capitalism: the 
lives of the poor are sacrificed to save the free market system." 73 But the South 
must "play ball" in the international capitalist system or expire. The shift to a more 
humane international capitalism, needed if poorer nations are to survive within the 
system, will be an enormous challenge. Still, there is no question that changes in 
the international economy must be made if the nations, people and environments of 
the Third World are to survive. John Willoughby, an economics professor from the 
U.S., states it clearly: 

It is useful.. .to remind ourselves that no restructuring of the 
world economy can guarantee by itself the meeting of basic needs of 
the masses of people in the world today. Nevertheless, international 
finance plays a major role in shaping each nation's economic prospects. 
Our challenge is to persuade the citizens of the advanced industrial 
world that reform of the international economic order matters. 14 
(Italics mine) 

Whether the voices are those of liberation theologians, social scientists, 

72 Gorostiaga, "Latin America in the 'New World Order,' p. 32. 

73 Richard, "Liberation Theology Today: Crisis or Challenge," p. 26. 

74 John A. Willoughby, "International Capital Flows, Economic Growth, and Basic 
Needs," in Human Rights and Basic Needs in the Americas , ed. Margaret E. Crahan 
(Washington, D.C: Georgetown University Press, 1982), pp. 210-211. 


economists, churches, or the poor themselves, there is much unanimity in a cry for 
change in the global economy of the next century on behalf of the masses of people 
who will not survive if the system remains unchanged. 



Who is using liberation theology & what are they saving? 

Liberation theology remains relevant and lively in Latin America today, 
especially in the life of Christian base communities. It has been described as a force 
which has accelerated change in peoples lives - in how they experience their 
Christian faith, how they look at their reality, enabling them to experience a new 
sense of empowerment and dignity through action. 

New voices are being heard and are reshaping liberation theology as it is put 

into practice by the seekers of liberation, the marginalized of Latin America. There 

is a shift happening as the people who live and breathe this theology fine tune it to 

fit the present-day situations in their own communities and nations. Who are those 

who are using, reshaping and influencing this theology? Maria Clara Bingemer 

describes them as follows: 

Today.. .the faces of these poor and oppressed look different. 
Out of the mass of faces of the great poor majority of Latin America 
three types in particular are emerging and attracting attention, 
presenting new challenges to church and society. They are the blacks, 
Amerindians, and women. These groups, oppressed for centuries by 
their color, race, and sex, are now essential for an evaluation of the 
theology of liberation and for any attempt to glimpse its future, be- 


cause they bring into theology new issues, a new method, and a new 
language. 75 

She reminds us that although new faces are emerging in the movement for liberation 

and systemic change, these are the people without whom the liberation theologians 

and this theology itself, would not exist. They are the most oppressed groups of all 

within the poor majority. 

Magdalena Columbia points out that the theology of liberation needs to pay 
attention to and be readjusted by these new faces: "All these groups < women, 
blacks, indigenous, children > have not been sufficiently listened to, not attended to, 
not responded to by the Church of the poor and by < the > theology of liberation." 76 
That is, liberation theology must not overlook the demands these groups of people 
make for specific changes in the life of the church and within society. 

On an affirming note, she uplifts the fact that base Christian communities 
have taken liberation theology into their midst over the past twenty-five years and 
used it as a tool for reflection and action in their daily lives, moving forward in the 
journey for self-empowerment. The work of liberation theology is, as she says, not 
done in universities, but among the people and the theologians who live and work 
with the poor. She reminds us that the "founding" work of Gustavo Gutierrez "did 
not arise from nothingness, nor did it arise from the clear vision of a privileged 

75 Maria Clara Bingemer, "Women in the Future of the Theology of Liberation," 
in Expanding the View , pp. 173-174. 

76 Magdalena Columbia, "Challenges to Theology of Liberation," Ladoc 21 
(Sept/Oct 1990): 12. 


mind." 77 It evolved from work begun all over Latin America in the 1960's, grounded 

not in abstract ideas but in real life. It has always been connected to the people, to 

their lives and their need for a totally reformed theology that faces the misery and 

works for change. 

Liberation theology is presently able to thrive because of its life within tr;e 

Christian base communities who live and breathe it on a daily basis in Latin 

America. Clodovis and Leonardo Boff have this to say about liberation theology's 


Liberation theology.. .does not shut itself up in splendid isolation 
but operates on the level of everyday life, where the fate of the 
individual is decided; there it seeks to take on the cause of the least 
of all not fearing the most rending conflicts in its efforts to guarantee 
at least the minimal requirements of human dignity, human life. 78 
(Italics mine) 

A common theme showing up in current writings on liberation theology is the 
shift from a church or theology "opting for the poor" to the poor opting for themselves', 
a shift toward self-empowerment. This means the end of the assumption that the 
non-poor are the only ones who are proactive. Yes, the church and theology ought 
to be on the side of and in solidarity with the poor, but the poor and marginalized 
are not just silent masses waiting for others to make changes in society for them. 

Daniel Levine, a political scientist interested in Latin America, notes that the 
description of the church serving as a "voice for the voiceless" and "opting for the 

77 Ibid., p. 8. 

78 Boff and Boff, Introducing Liberation Theology , p. 88. 


poor"(popular phrases since Medellin and Puebla) are phrases with hidden 
assumptions in them: 

<S>erving as a "voice for the voiceless" is not the same as 
listening to what the hitherto voiceless may have to say. What are the 
implications for the church when the poor act (and in this sense opt) 
to themselves, or when the voiceless find words to speak for 
themselves? 79 

The marginalized of Latin America are not voiceless or invisible; it just 
depends where one looks and listens. There are grass-roots movements among the 
people all over Latin America; people are trying to counteract the systems which 
seek to disempower them by organizing themselves into cooperatives, peasant unions, 
labor unions, and political organizations. 80 Changes are being made in small 
community groups by making demands upon those in power in order to obtain roads, 
sewers, water, schools. 

Some of this has not been favorably received by those who are threatened by 
any action of the marginalized to improve their own lives. It's no wonder that these 
groups provide a threat to some governments and why they are being repressed, why 
people disappear without explanations. Repression by the police and military still 
occurs regularly, even in places thought to be "democratic" like Mexico, but it does 
not stop the impetus of popular movements. As one Guatemalan peasant put it: "A 
few years ago any peasant who joined a cooperative or took a course in adult 

79 Daniel H. Levine, in Cleary, Born of the Poor . 

80 Richard Shaull, Heralds of a New Reformation (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 
1984), p. 2. 


education was considered subversive and might be killed at any moment. Today if 
you're poor, you're subversive." 81 

Forecast for the future 

The hope for societal transformation expressed by liberation theology is within 

Christian base communities throughout Latin America, where actual changes are 

occurring right now and where many popular movements are born. Regarding these 

changes in spite of increasing poverty, Juan Manuel Hurtado (a member of the 

theological commission of the Christian Base Communities of Mexico) writes: 

The new society is born at the base. It is in community that the 
model of a new society is being constructed; it is in community where 
the values of a new society — mutual respect, equality, democracy, 
freedom— can be lived. In this sense the Christian base communities 
present a model and a precursor of life in a new society. 82 

This new society, elaborated upon in the early writings of liberation theology, 

is what popular movements, Christian base communities and the church are trying 

to create. The vision of a new society via revolution envisioned by Gutierrez and 

others in the late 1970's is now tempered by current realities of the world: the hope 

in socialism, a post-revolution option as in the case of Cuba, is diminished by the 

failure or "downfall" of communism. Total transformation of societies now seems 

impossible at the macro level; an international capitalistic system is spreading without 

81 Ibid., p. 2. 

82 Juan Manuel Hurtado, "Christian Base Communities and the Neo-Liberal 
Project," Challenge 3 (Fall 1992):13. 


control and "digging in." 

Alternative economic solutions are being discussed at both the macro and 

micro level among these groups; leftist groups advocating change (not revolution) are 

trying to work within current political systems that are moving toward 

democratization. As Richard Shaull describes it, the poor do not simply want a 

"bigger piece of the pie;" they want to redesign the system that cuts up the pie so that 

it will work in a more fair way for the majority. 83 In a critique of the "neo-liberal 

project" (the present model of capitalism), Juan Manuel Hurtado describes the 

experience within Christian base communities: 

When the poor take responsibility for their own lives, when they 
want to create their own social and economic project in accordance 
with their past, their interests and their possibilities, then the 
governments, the multinational corporations and the establishment 
press attack them. Our people are resisting, and struggling to survive 
and move forward. 84 

The work of building a just society in Latin America is coming about at the micro 

level, through community groups, churches and global consciousness-raising, not 

through revolutions, at least for the time being. 

So where is the hope for a continued, transformative theology of liberation; 

where does the strength lie for people to struggle for liberation? Pablo Richard says 

that: "The Third World can live, resist and struggle with an ethic in which human life, 

not law, is considered as an absolute (law at the service of life, rather than life at the 

83 Shaull, Heralds of a New Reformation , p. 3. 

^Hurtado, "Christian Base Communities and the Neo-Liberal Project," p. 13. 


service of law), and with an ethic of truth." 85 The voices of those whose lives are 
at stake are still crying out, envisioning solutions, naming the sins, and thriving on the 
hope that God's justice will be manifested on earth. 

85 Richard, "Liberation Theology Today: Crisis or Challenge," p. 28. 




Latin American liberation theology expresses the hope, suffering, strength, ai\d 
frustration due to impoverishment of the majority of the people. It integrates their 
spiritual life with their daily lives; it empowers them to continue fighting for their 
rights and a decent standard of living. Their Christian faith thrives on the life and 
teachings of Jesus Christ for sustenance and inspiration in the pursuit of liberation. 
Their sense of God instills them with the dignity that their societal structures deny 
them; they believe that human beings should not have to endure limitless suffering 
while they wait for their reward later, in heaven. Liberation theology keeps the 
flame alive in the hearts and minds of those on the periphery, those often viewed as 
expendable by heartless political or economic systems. 

Latin American liberation theology reminds the rest of the world that one's 
belief in a divine, loving God must be lived out in practice. Liberation theology, at 
the same time, educates the world about the hard realities of life for the majority in 
Latin America and the rest of the Third World. Many different forms of liberation 
theology (Feminist, Womanist, African American) link our relationship to God, and 
the way we understand this, to the realities of the world around us, especially viewed 
from the perspective of the ones who have least (those who Jesus spoke of 
constantly)? Liberation theology, whether Latin American or another type, offers a 


chance for a new way of relating to others, of building community, and restructuring 
society and its values so that the needs of all people, not just some, are met. 

This study of economics and concrete realities expressed through Latin 
American liberation theology has confirmed my belief in and intrigue with the 
inseparability of economic analysis and a theology of liberation. The magnitude of the 
material problems in Latin America - increasing poverty, lack of basic human rights 
to housing, clean water, food, education, employment - bursts in upon any systematic 
understanding of God; that is, theology. 

The power of Latin American liberation theology lies partially in its ability to 
wholeheartedly address the socioeconomic realities of the everyday lives of the 
people who populate Latin America. The desires of God for humankind are made 
incarnate in this particular theology which is unafraid to address the strength and 
pain of the lives of the poor and powerless. The upside-down values of love and 
justice named by Jesus are what drives liberation theology toward shaping a society 
and world reflective of the kingdom of God. 

Pablo Richard believes that one of the strengths of liberation theology, useful 

to both its past and its future, is its engagement with economics. He states: 

By economics, I mean here the safeguarding and continuation 
of everyone's life, but especially the lives of the poor and oppressed 
....Here I am not talking about a dialogue between theology and 
economics, or a theological reflection on economics. I am saying that 
life, especially the lives of the poor, must be taken as theology's 
rationale. 86 

86 Pablo Richard, "Liberation Theology: A Difficult but Possible Future," in 
Expanding the View , p. 209. 


The ultimate rationale for this study has been the belief that in order to affect 

changes that will improve the lives of the poor and marginalized in the world, one 

has to thoroughly understand the systems that oppress them; one must see what they 

are up against. Theology and living out the gospel message must not be done in 

"splendid isolation" but with our eyes fully open (seeing what is), minds sharp, tools 

at our sides, and hearts strengthened by hope and vision. 

During the early stages of liberation theology in which some Christians in 

Latin America felt abandoned by the rest of the Christian world, Hugo Assmann 


Latin American Christians are forced to find their own way. 
That is our position now. A little lost on our way, some will say - and 
why not admit it?: "Traveler, there is no path: you make paths by 
walking." But, lost or not, a creative force is emerging; the people are 
standing on their own feet, steeling themselves for the historic 
confrontation that must come. 87 < Italics mine> 

Liberation theology, even twenty years after its "birth," offers a new path, a 

road that the world may not recognize because it hasn't been followed very much. 

The grass on this new path has barely been flattened by the feet of others, still we 

know it's there; we can hardly see where this path is, but some of us know we want 

to follow it because we know its destination. 

87 Hugo Assmann, Practical Theology of Liberation , p. 43. 



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